With his own two hands
Splitting his time between Orcas Island on the far north coast of America and Bali Indonesia, we catch up with humble artist Aleph Geddis to discuss his unique wood work and life on Island time...
On arrival in Orcas Island just north of Seattle, you immediately fall… IN LOVE. Do you get this reaction from your visitors all the time?
Orcas is a pretty magical island in a special part of the world. I’ve grown up here, but even all the years spent on the island has not diminished my love and appreciation for its beauty. When visitors come, its always nice to see their reaction to the place I am lucky to call home.
Would you describe your land with its many dwellings a commune of sorts? Tell us about it…
Its definitely become a sort of unintentional artists community which is become more and more magical all the time. Everyone that comes brings in something new and special. My friend Garth from Alaska is building a tiny workshop on wheels, and he has also helped build structures around the property. Friends helped to transform our barn into another magical zone. My friend Brooke has her illustration studio in the barn also. At all times there are people creating something, somewhere on the property. This has always been my vision, to provide a space for artists to come together, and collaborate and create. And this is just the beginning. I have big plans for the future.
Your step-father played an integral part of your skill learning, where did he develop his skills and when did your interest in creation and wood carving begin?
My step-dad Walter is primarily self taught and started by building wooden boats in Port Townsend before moving to Orcas. He can pretty much build anything out of wood, but became more and more drawn to carving and sculpture before committing full time to his art.
I’ve have grown up going in and out of Walter’s carving shed, for as long as I remember. It was an integral part of my life and childhood. Going to the Waldorf school gave me an appreciation for art and sculpture from a young age. Teachers would read to us while we sculpted with beeswax. Later when I tried hand at carving, I realized that I had a natural talent for it. And Walter became a mentor in this regard, I started apprenticing with him full time at the age of 20 and haven’t looked back.
We saw a stunning totem piece in the middle of your workshop. Tell us about the background and concept behind this commission
The project you saw is for Filson. It represents a fusion of my styles, blending of my geometry work and my animal masks.
Filson reached to me a couple of months ago about commissioning a one of a kind piece for their newly remodeled flagship store in Seattle, which is set to open in November. I pitched the idea of a geometric totem pole, and they loved it. The pole is no small project, it measures at 18 and a half feet and has taken a team of 5 carvers to finish.
It has been such a pleasure to collaborate with Filson on this project. I have always admired them and their appreciation of craftsmanship. I feel like our styles and aesthetic really align, so it is a dream project for me.
Lifestyle on Orcas, magic trees, deer, fishing, all amazing childhood memories, can you share a little insight for us
For a being a small island, Orcas has many different terrains, there are lakes and mountains, and beautiful rocky shorelines. There are no predators on the island, the only worst thing that can happen is you can get stung by a stinging nettle! Its pretty magical to feel so enveloped by nature and yet so safe. No predators means that the deer run wild and are in abundance.
In the summer time we all like to go sailing and crabbing on our friends sailboat. Summertime on Orcas is pretty special. Swimming in water holes, hiking mountain trails, picnicing at the lake. There’s an energy in the summer that feels really alive and palpable. All our friends sell their organic produce at the farmers market and we like to throw dance parties in our barn.
You mentioned a few other artists who inspire your work and some books, can you name these for us. What moves you?
Lately I’ve been into 60’s sculpture: Barbara Hepworth, Noguchi etc. I love looking at old books on Northwest Coast Native art. One of my favorites is ‘Tangible Visions’. ‘Handcrafted Modern’ is another favorite I look at on a regular basis.
From the few interesting and beautiful people I met in my short stay it certainly seems as thought there is a strong passion for the environment and the arts in the community here, would you agree, do you know many artists reside on the Island?
The island is a sanctuary for artists and environmentalists alike. Most often these two things are not mutually exclusive. There are lots of artists on the island like myself, and these artists often grow their own food and found ways to live off the grid. My friends the Bullocks have an awesome permaculture farm where they have 12 interns every year who come to learnf rom them and soak up the magic of the island. Ayame Bullock is also an artist and makes beautiful paintings and jewelry. So there’s this wonderful element of being surrounded by likeminded people all the time. People who love to create and are passionate about the land at the same time.
Bali is your somewhat second home, do you draw similarities between Orcas and Indonesia at all?
I’ve always been drawn to islands, its no coincidence that my other workshop is on Bali. But the two environments are very different. Bali is a lot busier and spirit feels close at hand. Orcas is more of a quiet, calming place for recharging. My workshop in Bali is shared with other close friends/artists and I feel very inspired there. My workshop there is more of a clean space in which I am fully embodied whereas my space on Orcas is shared with my step-dad.
Is there more traveling you would like to do? Where do you see yourself perhaps settling as an older man?
I am a traveller at heart and I really would love to go everywhere. I see myself spending more time in Central and South America. Orcas will always be a part of my life but I see myself living somewhere where I can teach my kids to surf.
Finally, if we were to close our eyes and you could lead us on a journey to your favourite place on Orcas what would it looks like, feel like, taste like?
The hike to turtlehead is probably my favorite hike on the island. You walk through beautiful Fir trees, winding up the mountain until you come to a clearing that overlooks the other San Juan islands. Its pretty spectacular. I like to bring a blanket and just chill up there for hours, hearing the red tail hawks fly above me. It’s the sound of home.
You can find more about Aleph HERE.
Feel free to write him directly about prices and commissions.
On a daily basis follow him HERE on Instagram
All images captured on film by Magdalena Wosinska
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